Sunday, October 28, 2012

Just War: Augustine, Aquinas, & Today

By Andrea A. Long
Andrea Long, a third-year student at Albany Law School, is the Executive Editor of the Center for Judicial Process. She is a magna cum laude graduate of the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. Andrea is a Senior Editor on the Albany Law Review, she served as Project Director of the Education Pro Bono Project, and she works year-round as a law clerk in the Office of General Counsel of New York State United Teachers. She was both the winner and Best Oral Advocate of the 2011 Domenick L. Gabrielli Appellate Advocacy Moot Court Competition. For the Fall 2012 semester, Andrea is a legal intern in the law school's Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic.
Andrea's essay is the second in the series on Just War prepared for the International Law of War & Crime Seminar, Fall 2012.

Just war is a concept that has been widely debated and philosophized for as long as there has been war. It offers a moderate view of war that is appealing: the concept that in certain circumstances, war is justified without being morally wrong.

Just war encompasses two separate prongs. The first is jus ad bellum, or the right to go to war, and the second is jus in bello, or proper conduct within war.[1] Both prongs must be met in order to consider a war just.

The right to go to war is typically thought to mean war waged in self-defense, or sometimes in defense of another nation. Conduct within war also must be proper in order for the war to be considered just. Proper conduct could mean a proportional response or fair treatment of prisoners of war.

Two philosophers in particular, Augustine and Aquinas, are known for their contributions to just war theory.  Augustine was heavily influenced by his Christian beliefs and the religious beliefs of society in general.[2] His notions of what just war meant to people and Christians were radical for his time period. However, Augustine himself saw the just war concept as an extension of Christian beliefs, rather than a philosophy that diverged from them.

Augustine suggested that in order to preserve justice along with peace, war was sometimes necessary and therefore morally justified.[3] To him, if a wrongdoing was being committed in a time of peace, that conduct was not justice, and it was not morally proper to simply ignore the bad conduct in the name of keeping the peace.

Human nature plays an integral part in Augustine’s just war theory. He believed that our sense of justice is derived from our humanity and inherent flaws. “Love thy neighbor” had a meaning far beyond the superficial to Augustine, where if one person was aware of a systematic oppression suffered by his neighbor, it was his moral duty to intervene and to use violence, if necessary, to end it.[4]

While on an individual scale this model falls apart, when applied to society as a whole it becomes clear that lawless violence is sometimes necessary and the morally responsible means to an end of injustice. Human nature and dignity go beyond a Christian or just war ideology, and according to Augustine this human dignity is important to understanding war of any kind, but just war especially.[5]

In light of events that took place long after Augustine’s time, his just war ideology still seems to apply in our world today. A major example is the Holocaust.

When Hitler began invading countries during times of “peace,” committing mass genocides, and promoting his racist and bigoted ideal world, world leaders were reluctant to step in and get involved, particularly those who felt they were far enough removed from the situation as to not be involved in it at all. Eventually, many countries did step in and World War II occurred before order was somewhat restored.

Had decision makers followed Augustine’s just war theory, they would have stepped in immediately when the injustices began. Fighting those injustices with violence would have provided for the greater good and, for that reason, been moral. Instead, by the time other nations were involved, things had progressed to the point where war on an enormous scale was necessary in order to end the wrongdoing.

Aquinas lived about nine hundred years later than Augustine. But he embraced similar principles of just war, also influenced by his Christianity. Aquinas’ philosophies of just war were no doubt also influenced by the chaotic medieval time period he lived in.

He approached just war from a viewpoint similar to Augustine. He believed there were certain moral justifications for violence. He also formed a narrower standard for what type of situation could conceivably lead to a justified war.

According to Aquinas, for war to be just, three conditions must be met.[6] First, war must occur for a good and just case, not self-gain or motivated by a desire for power.[7] Second, a just war should be declared by a governing body with the power to do so, such as a sovereign state.[8] Third, even upon entering a war, for war to be just the motive must ultimately be attaining peace.[9]

When these factors are applied, the war is ethically just. By only declaring war when there is just cause, order will be restored and the ultimate result will be morally sound. When the motive is pure then there are not other selfish rewards to be reaped. The just war theory thus concentrates on appropriate motives rather than vindictiveness, power or spite.

Requiring a governing body to actually declare war ensures that individuals follow the system in place. That rather than taking matters into their own hands, which could be for selfish reasons instead of for the overall good. Furthermore, giving the governing body the power to declare war provides an element of control and a chance for discussion over the decision to engage in battle.

Finally, where the ultimate motive is attaining peace, moral good will be advanced and the war won’t expand and lose sight of the original wrongdoing being addressed.  Fighting for peace instead of fighting to fight is the core of just war theory.

The just war concept strikes a balance between war without moral implications and complete pacifism. It recognizes the need for war in certain circumstances, and even commands war when morals would be best served by stopping wrongdoing despite the need to use violence. It is, therefore, a theory that is as appealing and applicable to our society today as it was when philosophers first discussed just war.
[1] John F. Coverdale, An Introduction to the Just War Tradition, 16 Pace Int'l L. Rev. 221, 223 (2004).
[2] Jean Bethke Elshtain, The Just War Theory and Natural Law: A Discussion, 28 Fordham Int'l L.J. 742, 745-46 (2005).
[3] Id.
[4] Id. at 751-52.
[5] Id. at 751.
[6] Joseph C. Sweeney, The Just War Ethic in International Law, 27 Fordham Int'l L.J. 1865, 1869-71 (2004).
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.